Would you like to find a creative solution to your current challenge du jour? It may be as close as the morning newspaper. (Note to younger readers: the “morning newspaper” used to be an actual thing. It was truly a marvelous invention. It appeared magically on your doorstep, required no scrolling, and never needed to be recharged.)
I was recently speaking to a group of business leaders in downtown Seattle. I was talking about “profitable creativity.” See, while CEOs say that creativity is the most important leadership quality for success, they don’t necessarily act that way. Many leaders seem to think that creativity training comprises little more than playing games and making balloon animals.
That’s why I use the phrase “profitable creativity.” Because far from being a frivolous luxury, creativity is the engine that drives profits. Name any profitable product in the history of the world, and it began with a creative idea.
Back to my Seattle business leaders. They wanted to know how they could generate creative ideas for their current business challenges-on demand. I shared with them a trick I used to use when I was writing jokes for Almost Live!, the comedy TV show that I produced for 15 years.
Punch lines and creative ideas are both the products of unrelated things colliding (“You got chocolate on my peanut butter!” “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!” “Hey, look-we’ve invented the Reese’s Cup!”). So when I needed to come up with a quick joke for the show, I’d read an article from one section of the newspaper, and then read an article from a completely different section. Then I’d force myself to come up with a funny connection between the two articles.
Look, the result wasn’t always pure gold. But what I was doing was forcing my brain into that space that finds connections-and that’s the space where creative ideas are born.
So how does this relate to business leaders? Here’s what I suggested to my leaders the other day. Grab a newspaper. (I think this works a little better with an actual, physical, paper newspaper-simply because it’s easier to mindlessly flip to a random section-but it will also work if your newspaper is on a screen.)
Got your newspaper? Okay, now flip to any section. (I’d love it if you’d avoid the business section, because we’re looking for creative ideas here, and the business section mixed with a business challenge might be a little too close for breakthrough creativity. But I’ll leave that to you.) Now, pick an article-any article. Read it. Now ask yourself this question:
In what ways is this article related to the solution to my challenge?
Yes, I know. Your immediate answer is likely to be, “It’s not.” But don’t stop there. Don’t be lazy. Forceyour brain to come up with an answer-preferably more than one.
Just like my punch lines, I can’t guarantee that your answer(s) are going to be your ultimate solution. What I can guarantee, though, is these answers are very likely to be ones that you would never have thought of otherwise-and they may be just the spark you need to lead you to that ultimate solution!